Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Ever-Elusive Tempeh goes Mexican (and Italian)

Tempeh. It sometimes feels like the holy grail of vegetarian cuisine. At least to me it does. You see, I have tried to sample tempeh on three separate occasions, only to be thwarted by circumstance.

Attempt 1:

In a rather ho-hum Asian cookbook, I came across what seemed like the perfect recipe. I wanted this recipe so bad, I could almost taste it in my mouth already, except that I had no real idea of what it should taste like, having never sampled half of its ingredients. Among those ingredients, the elusive tempeh, though I had yet to learn of its fickle temptress ways. As I read the ingredients, I recalled that Trader Joes sells Tempeh. I had seen it not three months ago sitting in a refrigerated section between vegetarian burgers and chorizo.

At my earliest convenience, I high-tailed it to the Traders. Walking down that same aisle, I spotted chorizo, veggie burgers, and other assorted meat or meatlike substitutes. Then, I hit the cheese section. Something was horribly wrong. I worked my way back in reverse: cheese, veggie burgers, chorizo. No tempeh. It seemed the Trader had plum run out.

Attempt 2:

Wandering through the produce department of a Toledo Meijer, I happened upon it. Tempeh. What was more, it was ON SALE. It was like winning the lottery twice in the same week (which you’d think was impossible but the world finds ways of proving the impossible real). I threw it happily into the cart and proceeded to the checkout with my fiancĂ© and his mom. (We were visiting). We drove back to her place, happy as clams and went to bed.

It wasn’t until lunchtime the next day that I realized the magnitude of my error. I opened the frig, eager for tempeh. I pilfered through the plastic sacks of our refrigerating-required groceries. No tempeh. My horror rising with every step, I walked out to the car. There, among the nonperishable foodstuffs, was my tempeh, left overnight in the summer heat, spoiled.

Attempt 3:

This time Trader Joe came through like gangbusters. I packed my prize into the car and headed home. Once there, I took the bag into the house, checking twice along the way to make sure my Tempeh was snug in its bag. I plopped it into the frig, safe.

Then, we left to visit family for the holidays. When we got home, I opened the frig and instantly knew something wasn’t right. I waved my hand back and forth in the depths of the frig. It wasn’t cold. A glimpse at the plug in its blacked outlet confirmed it, there has been severe electrical anarchy in our absence. We got a new frig the next day (thankfully the apartment did not burn down), but the perishables weren’t salvageable. The frig had been slowly frying the outlet for days and the food had long since soured. The tempeh went in the trash for a second time.

Attempt 4:
When I found the stuff again, I took a more lax approach. I figured, if fate had deemed me unworthy of tempeh, who was I to fight it? The tempeh sat in the frig for a couple weeks without a care in the world. I was too busy to cook and it would just have to wait. The wait came to an end when the expiration date drew near.

We planned for tacos. The man bought three colors of bell pepper and fresh romaine. We cooked up 2 cups of long brown rice in the cooker. While that cooked, he chopped while I sauted tempeh.

Stir Fried Tempeh
1 package tempeh, cut into inch thick strips
Soy sauce

1.      Steam the tempeh for 15 minutes in whatever steamer you like. Mine fits inside the rim of my smallest saucepan. (It rocks.) Then, heat up the sautĂ© pan.

2.      Understanding that tempeh is Asian in decent, I decided it would be best to use Asian flavors in the cooking of it, at least for this first effort. I drizzled on an amount I deemed appropriate of both soy sauce and teriyaki. When both sides of the tempeh were brown, I transferred them to a plate.

Upon assembling my taco, I placed a straight row of happy tempeh lengthwise across the soft shell, right over top of the refried beans and rice. I wrapped it up with a little pepper, lettuce, and a dash of enchilada sauce. It tasted good. Very very good. Tempeh, as it turns out, takes a lot like tofu only stronger with a slight bitterness reminiscent of miso, which makes sense, as it’s a fermented soy product.

Despite our best efforts and gluttony, there were leftovers. The next day was a Wednesday, which just so happens to be my son’s “picking day.” In other words, dinner is of his design, within reason. Of late, he’s partial to pizza, which we, as always, make from scratch. The boys made a meat-filled pizza any man would envy. I make a veggie one and throw on whatever vegetables happen to be available. A few weeks ago, this resulted in beet pizza that was very sweet but had to be eaten with a fork to avoid staining fingers red. (It oozed purple.)

This past week, it meant I threw on the tempeh. And what a genius idea it was. The tomato sauce combined with the usual veggies (peppers, escarole, tomatoes, etc) and the cheese was marked with a slight touch of salt that just worked.

I would ask tempeh where it has been all my life, but it would only dodge the question.

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